Friday, January 10, 2014

Neighbors and Missing Inner Monologues

Among the many things lost in the fast-changing technological times that we live in—notably in urban settings—are frequent neighbor interactions. While growing up, I actually knew people I really didn't know. That is, I knew the names and often the reputations—fair or unfair—of folks that I never once spoke with or personally encountered. We just knew one another back then because it was a neighborhood—when many neighborhoods in the city still had, for good and for bad, a small town quality to them.

I’d venture to say that when I was a boy in the 1970s and 1980s, there were a whole lot more interesting neighborhood characters than there are today. Neighbors were, for lack of better word, unleashed. They tended to speak their minds, even to people they didn’t know very well or hardly at all. Mr. G, who lived a couple of houses up from me, had no problem telling my older brother: "You look like a damn fool!” This verbal assault occurred when he spotted him for the first time with a thick black beard and longer hair than was the norm. He also repeatedly badgered my brother as to when he was going to “get a job.” One afternoon while in earshot of her vociferous husband’s aforementioned query, Mrs. G couldn’t restrain herself and exclaimed: “Nobody wants him! He always throw shoe in window!” The shoe she was referring to was a neighbor girl’s sneaker—one of her tenants in fact—that my brother had thrown through her open window. The G family didn’t employ screens during the summertime, which I always thought was a bad idea with all the bugs and backyard barbecue grills around. Many neighbors, in fact, spoke their minds—devoid of inner monologues—to whomever they encountered in their travels.

Immediately up the block from the G family was the C family. And when the C family’s cat got out of the house, the entire neighborhood was put on alert. The C family grandson blamed the grandmother’s negligence for allowing the cat to escape. I was witness to it. “Out of this house until we find that God-dammed cat,” he shouted at his grandmother as the frantic search began. Suffering from chest pains, the grandmother, whom we all knew as "Nanny," reported that her grandson wouldn’t permit her back in the house until the cat was found. If it hadn’t turned up, she would have been homeless. As things turned out, the cat—as felines are wont to do—was chilling out in an alcove under the indoor stairwell. It hadn’t escaped after all. It was definitely a more interesting time to be alive.

(Photo from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

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